Thanks to a single would-be shoe-bomber, most air passengers now go through the inconvenience and indignity of removing their shoes every time they fly. It's human nature to design a permanent solution for a one-time problem.
No, we don't mean to compare President Donald Trump to the terrorist Richard Colvin Reid, who tried to blow up an airliner in 2001. But the chaos Trump unleashed on the debate stage in Cleveland Tuesday similarly tempts authorities to fashion a solution that would keep such a debacle from happening again. The Commission on Presidential Debates has promised "additional tools to maintain order."
Just what tools might those be? A gavel? A bullhorn? A cone of silence?
"Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," read the statement issued by the commission on Wednesday. It gave no details, but said the changes would be announced "shortly."
The only "additional structure" we can imagine truly fixing the problem would be soundproof booths like the ones we used to see on TV game shows. A chorus of frustrated debate watchers called Wednesday for equipping future moderators with a "mute" button. But a debater who is determined to be disruptive probably can overcome an obstacle as subtle as a dead microphone. If they are sharing the same stage, one candidate might rattle another merely by talking over the other.
Or walking over him or her. In a so-called town hall format, as is planned for the next debate Oct. 15, Trump could roam the stage as he did in 2016 and mutter his taunts at close range. That debate was the occasion when Trump promised to send a special prosecutor after Hillary Clinton after the election. She said she was glad he was not president; Trump retorted, "Because you'd be in jail."
The YouTube video of that debate is instructive. It shows the introductory remarks of commission members, who express pride in a debate model that inspires schoolchildren and developing democracies around the globe. After Tuesday, the lack of irony in their comments is heartbreaking.
The video also shows Trump expressing the same sense of victimhood he displayed Tuesday night, when moderator Chris Wallace implored that he be silent. Trump characterized the encounter as "two on one."
In 2016, with two moderators in the mix, Trump complained he was outnumbered 3 to 1. In other words, Trump sees a debate not as an exchange of ideas, but as a cage match. His campaign aide Tim Murtaugh echoed that view, writing that if Democrats now want to change the rules, it's "because their guy got pummeled last night."
Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he hopes the commission can come up with a way for candidates to answer questions without interruption. We hope for the same. But we fear the only foolproof (or bully-proof) way to impose order over the wishes of the Trump we saw Tuesday would be with physical separation, like isolation booths or a Zoom call.
Such a change would likely rob the debates of some of their appeal. To serve any constructive purpose, the debates simply must have rules. More or different rules won't help if the problem is that Trump won't follow them.
And Murtaugh has already signaled that the Trump campaign would consider any change in the rules at this late date to be an inappropriate relocation of the goalposts.
Biden says he'll keep showing up for the debates, despite calls for him to stop. We hope he sticks to that position, and that voters will keep tuning in. And we hope, though the evidence is against us, that the president will develop a sense of civic responsibility and allow the debates to function as the voter-information tool they're intended to be.